SYKESVILLE — Like many of the teenagers of the 1960s, Ronn McFarlane first fell in love with music through the rock 'n' roll of the era.
Picking up the guitar to follow in the footsteps of his heroes like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, McFarlane took the path toward music that thousands of his contemporaries did. Soon, McFarlane's passion for rock led him to an instrument that few of his generation, or even his century, would associate with popular music: the lute.
On Sunday, Aug. 13, McFarlane will bring his unique blend of classical and modern sounds to Springfield Presbyterian Church in Sykesville for a free concert.
McFarlane said his interest in the lute came from studying classical guitar, in an effort to improve his rock playing. During his study, he said, he found he was connecting more with Renaissance and Baroque music than the classical masters. He said he easily saw a connection between those genres and the folk and rock music he loved as a teen.
After playing a number of pieces written for the lute, but transcribed to the guitar, he said he decided to make the leap to the original instrument himself.
"I had originally thought I would divide my concerts by playing the lute in the first half and guitar in the second, to take audiences from the old to the modern," McFarlane said. "Then I realized that by dividing my time and energy, I couldn't be as strong on either."
For nearly 40 years, McFarlane has been performing with the lute as his primary instrument, with a mission to bring the sound and the instrument into the musical mainstream. Throughout his career, he's performed across the United States and the world, helped found the Baltimore Consort and has performed with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Oregon Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and taught with the Peabody Conservatory for more than a decade.
In 2009, McFarlane's album "Indigo Road" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Classical Crossover Album. He said having the chance to attend the Grammy Awards as a nominee was a career highlight.
"I got to see Paul McCartney and U2 open the show. I couldn't believe how loud U2 was," McFarlane said. "I love all styles of music. Even though another group won, it was still a thrill."
McFarlane said when people come to see him perform, they are taken aback by how versatile an instrument the lute is. He said both his modern compositions and original works have elements of folk and rock that are easily accessible to present-day listeners.
"There's something about that classic style that really connected with me," McFarlane said. "You get the same scales and modes as you do in rock guitar. There's also a chance for improvisation. You're involved in the music more than just reading notes off a page."
Though the lute went out of style in the late 18th century, according to McFarlane, it has seen a resurgence in recent years as orchestras move toward playing classical music with the authentic instruments and techniques of the era when it was written. McFarlane said you do not have to be a music expert or a lover of the Baroque to enjoy his concerts.
"People tend not to see a lute in solo or in a small ensemble all that often," McFarlane said. "The idea behind the show is to have enough variety that you don't have to be a specialist or an early music nerd to enjoy it. You don't think you need it for other styles of music. If you enjoy metal or bluegrass, you can enjoy this in the same way."